Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, August 28, 2020

Liberty Bell Awards go to Favors, Bell

Bar Assocociation honors pair for years of service

The Chattanooga Bar Association has recognized two individuals who traveled different paths through life with the same honor: The 2020 Liberty Bell Award.

JoAnne Humphries Favors is a retired nurse, former legislator and devoted community servant who has spent her life “turning obstacles into opportunities for others,” states the proclamation which names her as a recipient of the award.

Gen. B.B. Bell is a retired United States Army four-star general whose “entire adult life has been one of service,” reads the nomination letter Chattanooga attorney Richard Buhrman composed and submitted to the bar.

The CBA honored Favors and Bell with the Liberty Bell Award during its virtual Law Day celebration, held Aug. 18 during the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women in America the right to vote.

The CBA streamed the event live from multiple locations in Chattanooga and Nashville, where an enactment of the pivotal vote that secured the ratification of the amendment took place at the Tennessee State Capitol.

The program, which the bar titled “100 Years of Woman Suffrage: Honoring the Past, Looking to the Future,” included a proclamation commemorating the occasion by Reps. Patsy Hazlewood, Esther Helton and Robin Smith, keynote presentations by Tennessee Woman Suffrage Trail co-founder Paula Casey and Chattanooga-Hamilton County historian Linda Moss Mines (who appeared dressed as suffragist Abby Crawford), and a CLE seminar by Bill Haltom dubbed “Unsung Hero of Woman Suffrage.”

Haltom told the story of 32-year-old Polish immigrant and Tennessee State Representative Joseph Hanover, who became the nation’s leading male voice in the battle for woman suffrage when he asked, “Why can’t mother vote?”

Since 1964, the bar has bestowed the Liberty Bell Award during its annual Law Day celebration to recognize community service that has strengthened the America system of freedom under law. Lawyers and judges are not eligible for the honor, but all other persons are.

The CBA has presented the award to multiple individuals only one other time – in 1989, when it chose Sarah Faires and Alfred Law, Jr., as the recipients.

The association based its decision to honor two individuals in 2020 on the “significant and profound” impact of their contributions, said CBA president John Harrison as he began the ceremony.

Noting that Favors is fond of saying, “We are blessed to be a blessing,” Harrison offered what he said were merely highlights from the woman’s prolific and productive life.

He began with her education, which included graduating from historic Howard High School in 1960 and earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in nursing administration.

Favors, who watched from her home, later said she initially wanted to be an attorney. “We didn’t have the money or access to higher education locally as African Americans, so I fell in love, married and had four children,” she recalled. “Nursing was the other option for me, and it was a very rewarding profession.”

During her career, Favors rose to head nurse at Erlanger and T.C. Thompson’s Children’s Hospital. She also served as an associate professor at Chattanooga State and an Erlanger trustee.

Harrison also noted Favors’ years of distinguished service in government at the local and state levels. In addition to being the first African American female elected to the Hamilton County Commission, Favors served seven terms as a state representative. She retired as a legislator in November 2018.

Favors’ contributions to her community extended beyond her public service to include serving as a founding member of the Chattanooga chapter of 100 Black Women, as co-chair of the Mayor’s Council on Women and as state director for Women in Government, Harrison noted.

A few of the many honors Favor has received include the Chattanooga Hamilton County NAACP’s CB Robinson Ambassador Award and Ruby Hurley Humanitarian Award, as well as Girls Inc.’s Unbought and Unbossed award.

Favors’ daughter, Dr. and Rev. Marva Lee, presented the Liberty Bell Award. “This brings tears to my eyes,” Favors said. “I feel overwhelmed. Thank you for all you have done in this community.”

Harrison also endeavored to abridge the life of Bell, whose far-reaching career as a United States Army officer took him to Europe, the Middle East, South Korea and beyond.

Before leading commands with the United Nations Forces, the Republic of Korea Combined Forces and the United States Army Europe, Bell attended the University of Chattanooga and graduated with a business degree in 1969. He then served on active duty until 2008, when he retired.

During his 39 years of service, Bell earned a number of military awards, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal.

Harrison also noted Bell’s service locally at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and with the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center.

In 2003, Bell received UTC’s Distinguished Alumnus Award; in 2017, he was named one of the top 100 alumni for the entire University of Tennessee system. He also served on the UTC Alumni Board of Directors and is a past president of the UTC Chancellor’s Round Table.

Bell was a leader in raising funds in support of the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center and continues to serve as president of the organization’s advisory board.

In his nomination letter, Buhrman wrote, “Gen. Bell exemplifies service both to the United States and to the Chattanooga community. No doubt his distinguished military career has strengthened the American system of freedom under law. He has led by example, which exemplifies individual responsibility under the law, in support of our institutions of government.

“He is a model which can serve to foster in others a better understanding and appreciation of the rule of law.”

As Bell accepted the award from his home, he called Mines back to the streaming location in Nashville. He then addressed her as Crawford as he told a story about how his perceptions of what women can accomplish changed.

“In December 1995, I found myself in Hungary with several thousand American soldiers, a terrible snowstorm and an order from a four-star general to find an entry point into Bosnia-Herzegovina. In accordance with the Dayton Peace Agreement, we were to march the American army into Bosnia and take up a peace enforcement role.

“I told my leaders to find me a military police commander, since this sounded like something that would be up his alley, and to give me a platoon of military police and a platoon of combat engineers.

“About 20 minutes later, Major Miller arrived at my command post and reported for duty. I almost asked her where the real Major Miller was because surely a woman would not be showing up to command my reconnaissance effort. But sure enough - he was her.

“Having backed myself into that corner, I told her to lead our forces into the night, travel 300 miles and locate entry points while we prepared for movement. So, in the middle of a snowstorm, Major Miller and 37 men moved out by Humvee to complete their mission.

“Over the next three days, Major Miller reported her findings and travails as she encountered enemy forces and overcame challenges due to the weather. She had to take the two entry points she found - a mostly bombed out bridge in Croatia and another bridge going in from Serbia - by force.

“Soon thereafter, the American army entered Bosnia and peace was proclaimed.

“Major Miller’s superb accomplishments in the direst circumstances stunned me. Women are equals in our land. They can do whatever their hearts tell them and their minds direct them to do.”

Bell continued to address Mines as Crawford as he concluded his remarks.

“I want to thank you for being brave, for showing not just the capability of women but their sovereign right to be equal partners in this great experiment known as the United States of America. God bless you and Major Miller for what you did and for what all women have done for this country.”

Bell then thanked the bar association for the award, saying, “I will hang it where I will see it every day.”

During the event, Harrison tied the bar association’s celebration and the broader observance of the centennial anniversary of women securing the right to vote to the symbolic significance of the crack in the Liberty Bell, which he said is representative of the flaws in America’s original democracy.

“Just as the bell as originally cast had its flaws, our democracy as originally cast had its flaws, not the least of which was the denial to women of the right to vote. It is the granting of that right on Aug. 18, 1920, that we celebrate today.”